“What do you need to be the best? Everything you’ve got.”
This slogan - taken from a famous advertising for sports apparel - wraps-up the greatest lesson digital marketers can learn about customer engagement from sports management.
And that is: If you don’t train to offer the best performance and deliver the best results, you will never overcome the competition to win your customers’ heart and mind. You will never improve customer experience.
Whether you are a sports fan or not, there is a lot you can learn from what happens on the field, in the locker room and behind the scenes.
Football, rugby, basketball, tennis: when you think about sports - with all its declinations - you think about sweat, muscles, concentration, adrenaline. These words depict an experience made of mud and passion. We don't want to deny the romantic side of it, but today sport is more than that. Sport is marketing. Sport is technology.
Long gone are the days when the experience with fans was based entirely on what transpired on the field. For almost 80 years, radio and television have been the main drivers of technological evolution in sports. Then something happened, and everything changed forever.
As fans, we didn't need to be home or on the bleachers to enjoy the best events in the world. In the last decade, the mobile revolution came in to disrupt what we can call ‘Sports customer experience’: The internet went mobile, and so did customers.
The digital transformation, marked by the spread of the smartphone and the emergence of social networks, reshapes - innovation after innovation - the way we ‘live’ the competition. How we watch sports is not how our fathers did; how we play sports is not how our fathers used to play. The customer experience goes digital.
The smartphone and all other disruptive devices rebuild the experience of sports, connecting the physical and digital worlds into a new - and more complete - level of experience:
- The smartphone - there is an app for everything. Even the smallest team or league has exclusive features to let you stay up to date with all news regarding your favorite team;
- The iBeacon - the challenge is to move people away from their comfortable couch and bring them to the arena. The iBeacon is ideal to enhance the experience with gamification and personalized offers;
- The activity trackers - whether you are fitness-obsessed or just a Sunday runner, it is more than likely that you are caught in the maze of self-tracking. The wearable revolution is primarily a sports revolution.
- The smartwatch - the new releases of the Apple Watch and Android Wear show that the smartphone is the perfect companion for sports, watched (push notifications) and practiced (health sensors).
As a matter of facts, supporters are no longer restricted to living a match the traditional way. The arena and the TV are just the tipping point for an exploded experience along different touch points and channels. A lesson all other industries should learn.
The consequence is evident: business today is not even conceivable without technology. Teams become brands, and brands are companies. Being companies, they need to invest both in content marketing and technology to increase sales and revenue, focusing on what matters the most: fans, a.k.a. customers.
Customer engagement and loyalty are sports’ bread and butter, the foundation all teams are built on. Today, the need is inherent for teams to deliver the best customer journey possible, across all channels and devices in a holistic view, digital and mobile first.
The need to provide the most optimal customer experience at all times is essential for success: You can easily see how this is not different when it comes to professional sports. But somehow teams are ahead of the companies of other industries (i.e., retail & consumer goods) when it comes to the respect of customers, and the awareness of the value of their trust and loyalty.
WE BELONG HERE
No team is like the others. Each one is different, at least that’s what loyal fans believe and feel. Each team has its distinctive history, core value and tradition, the pillars that shape the brand identity and storytelling. All the marketing actions they plan and execute convey those uniqueness. The game starts before entering the stadium, playing on the sense of belonging and exclusivity; the same you should do with your brand.
YOU NEVER WALK ALONE
What is the mark of a great team? What makes a group of athletes a symbol for millions of people? Not the titles won, nor merchandising or tickets sold. The lifeblood of any great team is loyalty and devotion. Sports is probably the area where loyalty plays the greater role in determining the success of a company. And we refer to loyalty in its broadest sense, including engaged employees (your first customers).
WE ARE EVERYWHERE
The essence of a great sports customer experience is in the omni-channel nature of the connection with your favorite team. Fans don’t live in one single channel anymore; they switch between analog and digital, using the smartphone to stay 24/7 online. Sports companies have adapted fast, using all sorts of technology to engage with their digital customers: apps, social media, video, exclusive events.
PLAY TO THE STRENGTHS
Success in sports is a matter of continuous improvement and progress: athletes know their strengths and always show their best cards during the battle, trying to overshadow their limitations. And most of all, they never settle for what they have already accomplished. They always aim at overcoming their limits and defeat all records. Same with your company: highlight your qualities and invest in development, to be cutting-edge and stay top of mind.
KNOW THE COMPETITION
How can you understand what your customers want and where are your competitors headed to? The answer is ‘analysis’. Today there is no sports without technology, and technology creates a huge amount of data (about athletes, performances, competitors) that analysts use to improve the output and overcome competition before even challenging. Data are inherent in the sport as well as in any other industrial sector. Denying this fact equals losing your best chance to win.
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